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Casablanca (1942)
Tonight's Feature Presentation


Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt, Dooley Wilson

Written By: Julius J. & Phillip G. Epstein, Howard Koch, Murray Burnett (play), Joan Alison (play)

Directed By: Michael Curtiz

The Short Version

One of the greatest motion pictures ever made. Period.

Flawless casting.

Flawless music.

Flawless dialogue, flawless direction, flawless everything.

If you own any movies at all and Casablanca is not one of them, you need to correct the oversight.

The Long Version

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“What is your nationality?

“I’m a drunkard.”

“And that makes Rick a citizen of the world.”

“It’s December 1941 in Casablanca.  What time is it in New York?”

“My watch stopped.”

As it has for us all when we watch Casablanca.  While many films are called timeless, Casablanca – despite being set in and at a very specific place and time (that being Morocco beginning on December 2, 1941, to be exact) – truly is.

It’s still the same old story, a fight for love and glory… and it only gets better with age.

Tales about who was originally supposed to play whom and which performers thought the film would hurt their careers and so on abound; some of them may even be true.  That the script wasn’t even finished before shooting started is a certain fact, but once we press “play” – or, if we’re exceptionally lucky and get to a theatre willing to “play it again,” once the curtain rises – none of that amounts to a hill of beans.  It doesn’t matter who might have appeared on screen had things gone differently, or whether the players’ lines had only recently been written or whether they were ad-libbed, for this is the magic of film: only what happened while the cameras rolled for the takes that the director deemed worthy counts in the end.

And so we have motion picture perfection.

This isn’t to say that Casablanca is completely and utterly faultless – there never was such a thing as a letter of transit signed by General de Gaulle that could not be questioned – but it is flawless.  Yes, my friends, there is a difference.

Flawless is Humphrey Bogart at the top of his game as the rogue who doesn’t stick his neck out for nobody… except when he does.

Flawless is Ingrid Bergman as a woman too complex to be called a damsel in distress… but who never fails to make hearts skip a beat all the same.

Flawless is that Bogart’s Rick and Bergman’s Ilsa will always have Paris… and that the script is brave enough to leave it at that.

Flawless is that of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she had to walk into his… so we could be treated to that and so many other dialogue delights.

Flawless is that someone decided to let Sam play “As Time Goes By”… even if it meant losing out on royalties that might have come from an original composition.

Flawless is that Warner Brothers snapped up Casablanca as a patriotic war picture… but resisted the urge to make it bluster.

Flawless is a cosmopolitan film… during a xenophobic era.

Flawless is the musical duel between blowhard Nazis and those they displaced… Vive la France.

Flawless is Claude Rains as the most delightfully played corrupt police official ever to grace the screen… who is, of course, shocked, shocked to find that there is gambling in this establishment.

Flawless is betting on 22… which, of course, is only lucky by chance.  Twice.

Flawless is Peter Lorre, one of the great masters of playing characters with a slimier side… whom one can’t help but like anyway.

Flawless is the attention to detail paid by director Michael Curtiz… down to the “poodle” in the final scene.

Flawless is that even the bit players and minor characters come across as being unforgettable… even if one never knows the performers’ names, and even if the characters never had names to start with.

Flawless is that one can watch Casablanca a hundred times… and never tire of it.

Flawless is that during the hundred and first viewing, odds are that the viewer will spot something new… just like every other time.

Flawless is all of these things and a thousand more.  Indeed, though I am generally against calling anything “the best,” were one to catch me sufficiently unguarded and to ask the question with a particular degree of persuasiveness, one would very likely catch me calling Casablanca the single greatest motion picture of the black and white era.

Casablanca is a film that needs to be experienced by everyone, period, and that deserves to be owned by everyone who loves movies, exclamation mark.

Bottom line, you know what movie you need to see.  Play it!

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, July, 2013

You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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